Țara lui Andrei at Bran Castle

This weekend, Ligia and I participated at an event called “Tabăra lui Andrei”, put together by the team at Țara lui Andrei. They organize these wonderful camps for underprivileged children every summer in the village of Bran, in order to provide training, employment opportunities and personal development courses for these children. Each camp lasts about a week, with teams of about 60 children brought in to learn how to grow into productive, well-balanced people who like what they do in life. They do miracles! Normally, you’d say you can’t do much with someone in a week, but you’d be surprised at the results they get!

This week’s camp was for chefs and waiters. At the end of the week, after a lot of on-the-job intensive training and motivational seminars, they organized, cooked and served a three-course meal to a group of Romanian celebrities, notables and government officials invited to attend the dinner party.

We, the dinner guests, were treated to a wonderful event and were blown away by the professionalism of these children of high-school age. The evening started with appetizers, continued with a private tour of Bran Castle and culminated with this special dinner, served in the newly opened Castle Tea House.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the good people at Țara lui Andrei for the amazing, life-changing work they’re doing and for the impact they have on the lives of these children who get to see life through a different lens, even if only for a little while, and then get employment opportunities and a chance at a better life. I’m so proud that this kind of work is going on in Romania!

I also made a video where I talked a little more about this, and there’s a photo gallery here as well.

Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului

Ligia and I were in attendance at a wonderful event last night, organized by the good folks from Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului, a medieval fortress whose construction began in 1310 and continued through various repairs and improvements well into the 1630s.

It goes without saying that I love medieval fortresses and castles. I feel right at home whenever I visit one. I loved the architecture here, the various tunnels and cellars that run under its walls, the beautiful, grandiose rooms and hallways but most of all and perhaps a little odd, the window encasements which were made of carved stone. They were so beautifully and delicately made and were perfect for the style of the castle.

We got there a little before the entertainment started. Being there ahead of time gave us the opportunity to explore the castle and take some photos, which you’ll get to see here. The evening’s festivities involved wine and champagne tastings, hors d’oeuvres, some networking, a ceremony celebrating those who are doing good things in Romania (Ligia was among those who were feted) and a concert in the castle’s inner courtyard.

I also shot some 360° video with my Giroptic camera (it’s embedded below and may not display properly in certain browsers like Safari on a Mac). I have to apologize for its quality. While the novelty of this kind of video kind of makes up for the camera’s technical inability to record proper HD video, it’s not enough to recommend it. And when you hear the bad sound recorded with its microphones, you’re even more put off. Again, sorry… If any of you know how to improve the quality of the video captured with this camera, please let me know.

But enough whining! The event was great, the champagne and the wine were great and the castle was amazing! We loved it! One of the people we got to meet was Mrs. Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Office at United Nations (you’ll see her in one of the photos with Ligia) and you should have seen my face when she said she knew me and liked my show, Romania Through Their Eyes… 😳

Thank you Adriana and Rob for putting this wonderful shindig together!

First snowfall of 2016

One of the first things I feel in the morning is my daughter kissing me on the face and whispering “Daddy…”, usually followed by a request for food or cartoons or playtime. She’s our alarm clock, whether we like it or not, though I have to say, no matter how tired I am, waking up to a little angel giving me a kiss and calling me daddy is a pretty good way to start the day.

Yesterday morning, even though I’d worked till 2 am and she was waking me up at 7 am, I got up and took her in my arms and started walking together toward her playroom. I looked casually out the kitchen window and (this happens every year) let out a “Yoo-hoo!” because the first snowfall of the winter had already covered our yard. Sophie did the same — after all, she wants to be like her daddy — and we both giggled as we looked out the windows at the pure, little ice crystals coming down in a hurry.

Still, I needed my sleep, so I got a fire going in her playroom, got her some food and shuffled back to bed. By the time I got up again, the snow was still falling, albeit in less of a hurry, and blustery winter winds had begun to blow. You know the kind, the chill goes right to your bones and makes you shiver no matter how many clothes you have on you.

After breakfast, I had to grab a camera and go out to photograph the snowfall. It had started coming down a little heavier again and this was a chance not to be missed, in spite of the cold weather.

I did just that. The streets were mostly deserted, which is just the way I like it, although the tracks of hurried morning traffic were visible in the snow. It was odd weather. The warmer ground had turned the freshly fallen snow to slush and yet high winds were blowing down, carrying more snow from up above and spreading it everywhere. It was not a good time to walk around with a camera in hand. My fingers began to slowly freeze and become unresponsive. I’d forgotten how this felt. A warm summer will do that to you. My nose and ears seemed to be in a parallel plane where the sensations consisted mostly of prickly pins being shot at them. The cold started creeping up my legs and in spite of the old saying that goes something like “I’m freezing my a** out here…” it wasn’t my derriere that was suffering, it was my kidneys. Weird stuff…

Anyway, I persisted, walked throughout the historic district and photographed what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos. It was a fun and partially frozen experience…

By the way, high wind advisories are still in effect throughout Romania. Meteorologists are saying that some regions are expected to have winds up to 60-70 km/h. Should be interesting!

An evening walk through Sibiu’s historical center

Here are a few photos from a recent visit to Sibiu, where we walked through the two main piazzas in its historical center.

Springtime in our garden

It’s become somewhat of a yearly tradition for me to share photos of our garden with you. Here then is this year’s selection of spring photos. I hope the flowers bring as much joy to you as they do to me.

I feel blessed every time I take a walk through the garden. I particularly like to walk through it in the evenings, because it helps me unwind from our typically busy days. It’s our little corner of heaven. It requires upkeep, to be sure, but the payoff is grand.

This spring not many flowers escaped our little Sophie’s eager hands. Her passion is to collect daily bouquets of assorted flowers of all sorts of shapes and colors, and that means most of the flowers are to be found on her playtable inside the house, not in the garden, at least this year. We’ll see how we fare during the next seasons.

Romania Through Their Eyes – Mark Treon

Mark Treon and I sat down for a conversation about Romania on 7/8/15, in my studio. Mark has been coming to Romania since 1991, has made over 30 trips to the country and has also adopted a child here, which has bound him even closer to the country. He is now renovating three Saxon homes in the village of Richis and plans to turn them into an inn.

This is the tenth episode of “Romania Through Their Eyes”, a show featuring interviews with foreigners living in Romania. The show’s purpose is to get their impressions about the country and to start a dialogue which will lead to a greater understanding of the issues facing Romanians and Romania.

Music: “Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52” by Frederic Chopin, performed by Frank Levy. Track is public domain, obtained from Musopen.org.

RTTE-010-EN-HD
Released 7/13/15

A hike through the hills of Atel (Hetzeldorf)

Atel (Hetzeldorf) is a larger village in Southern Transilvania with a beautiful fortified church. The church is undergoing renovations and is closed to the public but the hills surrounding the village were certainly open and welcoming today, as we took a short hike to enjoy nature. In case you’d like to visit the place yourself, here’s a link to the spots we saw.

We’d come to get a bit of fresh air and as we were walking around with Sophie, exploring the flowers and the bugs and the birds and listening to the various sounds the latter two made, we spotted a building up on the hill, looking somewhat deserted. We decided to pay a visit and see what it was. It turned out to be the somewhat deserted church of the Saxon cemetery which overlooks the village.

If you don’t know the story of the Saxons of Transilvania, you need to read this. It tells only part of the story and obviously none of the heartache of the departure from their places of birth, but the deserted graves, tilting and knocked over by time, including the cobwebs on the church door, tell the story of a people that are no more, with only remnants here and there. These people built these magnificent structures and sturdy homes that have stood the test of time and now they are here no longer. Atel is only one of the many, many Saxon villages spread throughout Transilvania but for some reason, seeing all those graves in disarray made me realize how few Saxons there are left and what good work they’ve done over the many hundreds of years they were here.

I hope you’ll enjoy the photos and as usual, if you’re interested in using any of them, please see my licensing terms.

Historic sights from Tg. Mures

There are so many interesting historic buildings in Tg. Mures, Romania. When you’re downtown, pretty much everywhere you look you can find a building that has stood the test of time and presents various architectural details that catch the eye (or the lens). I think what sets this city’s architectural heritage apart from other cities I’ve visited is that its historic buildings are so varied in their architecture and decorations, unlike other towns where most of the architecture sticks to common themes. Complicated reliefs and daring color schemes adorn these buildings and most of them are remarkably well preserved over time.

Here’s a collection of photographs I think you’ll like. I took them in 2007 and 2009. I snuck in a couple of modern sights which sadly detract from the beauty of the city. Do what I do, try to ignore them…

Should you be interested in licensing any of these photos (or any of my other photos), you might want to read through my terms.

Panoramas from Southern Transilvania

Back in August, I took several panoramas during a trip from Sighisoara to Fagaras where we decided to take the winding country roads, which meant also meant driving on dirt roads for quite some time during that trip. The views were worth it. Here are a few of them. Go ahead, click through to see them at full size, the details are worth it.

The Turda Salt Mine

The Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda) has been in use since antiquity. The Romans most likely got their salt from there after they conquered Dacia. Although the deposits are plentiful, salt mining was stopped there in 1932. When I say they’re plentiful, I mean the salt deposits run underground from Turda to Dej and go as deep as 2,600 meters. They’re barely scratching the surface in the Turda and Dej Salt Mines.

When I talk to our friends from abroad about Romania, I talk about how rich it is in natural wealth. Salt is just part of that incredible wealth. The Romans and then the Austro-Hungarian empire were so keen to get their hands on Transilvania because of its gold and silver deposits as well and nowadays, a foreign gold concern is trying to scrape whatever gold is left, through whatever means necessary, including environmental disaster, from Rosia Montana. But let’s get back to the salt.

You enter the mine through a tunnel that stretches about 300 meters.

On the walls, the meters are marked with inscriptions.

After walking through the tunnel for what seems like a looooong time, you finally reach the inside of the salt mine, where everything is solid salt (the floor, the walls and the ceiling).

The main tunnel soon breaks off into different directions.

In one of the halls, the machine used to mine the salt, called a salt scraper, is on display. Initially, it was powered by men, then by horses. It would scrape horizontally and vertically.

Salt would then be loaded onto iron carts and pushed outside.

One thing you notice right away is how corroded all the metal is. Inside a salt mine, it’s to be expected. For some reason, fir wood holds up in that terribly salty environment very well, so it’s used everywhere for structural support and functional purposes.

The texture of the walls ranges from pure, translucent crystal to what we know as salt, little white crystals that can be scraped off with our fingernails.

After you ascend on the staircase shown above, you enter a lower hall where one of the walls does not exist. You walk to the edge and lo and behold, you find yourself centimeters away from a vertigo-inducing precipice. It’s a vertical drop at least 150 meters down and before you have a chance to recover from that shock, you see this otherworldly appearance.

At first it seems like a spaceship parked there. Then you realize it’s an underground lake with a manmade island and wooden structures, artistically lit.

So you look around to see how you can get down there and you see this.

The solid salt walls are carved straight down, as a ravine, and they open up into a huge underground hall filled with all sorts of playgrounds.

There are elevators to ferry you up and down but the lines are long, so we took the stairs. On the walls, the years in which those levels were reached are marked with inscriptions.

The view up from the bottom of the staircase.

Inside, this is how things look.

Just when you think you can walk over to that ET island, you realize you have to descend several more levels.

This is how things look like from down there.

Great artistry can be seen in the woodwork here.

Just so you get a sense of the scale of that place.

The solid crystal salt walls have an amazing texture and just imagine, those salt deposits run over 2.5 km deep in that region.

The salty water shimmers under the plentiful lights.

This is us, on the bridge.

The fir planks had gained an interesting patina from the rubbing of people’s shoes and the salt deposits.

On the walls, delicate salt stalactites had begun to form, as a result of the water condensation generated by all the visiting crowds.

As amazing as the Turda Salt Mine looks today, with its huge vertical drops downward on solid salt walls, just imagine how it would look if they’d mine the whole 2,600 meters and you’d actually look down that entire drop. It would be deeply frightening and amazing and otherworldly and spectacular, even more so than it already is.

Summer flowers

I wanted to show you the beauty of our summer flowers, particularly that of our red poppies. And if you recall my cherry blossom photos posted this spring, you’ll find a certain photo of ripening cherries posted below quite appetizing.

Lacul Oasa and Transalpina

The second leg of our trip through the Southern Carpathian Mountains, whose first leg took us through Obarsia Lotrului and Lacul Vidra, now took us by Lacul Oasa and the Northern portion of the Transalpina, a high-altitude road which offers unsurpassed vistas and which I documented through photos in late fall of last year.

This picturesque, unpaved portion of the Transalpina Road is also quite dangerous. The rocky cliffs you see hanging above it are eager to hurl rocks at passersby. It’s a situation made worse by man’s presence there. They blasted through the rock to make the road (a necessary evil) but they also set up a temporary concrete factory there and chewed through yet more rock to make the stuff. Until vegetation grows back on that slope to hold together the rocks, or measures are taken to reduce the rock falls, it’s a dangerous section of the road. Rocks were falling right by us as we drove through.

Be sure to view the full gallery posted below for more photos.